How an Abuse Survivor can become an Advocate
By: Amy Thomson
When I left my abuser at the end of 2012, the last thing on my mind was putting my story – and my vulnerability – on display. For the first two months, I made my world incredibly small in an attempt to keep myself safe, but I became nearly invisible in the process.
I had no plans, certainly none that would culminate where I find myself today: volunteering with Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence as a blogger and social media administrator. What happened that started me on that path? The silence and shame became too much to carry, and I started a blog – anonymous at first – and used it to help reconcile and purge what I had been through. What began as a way to augment the impacts of counseling eventually paved my way into advocacy.
Many survivors of abuse will reach a point during their journey where they decide they want to become an advocate for abuse victims and speak out against intimate partner violence. It is not uncommon to know what to do to take that first step, but we do have some suggestions of meaningful ways you can make an impact as an advocate.
Before you take this step, it’s important that you are emotionally healthy enough to invest yourself in the work. Advocacy work in any field focusing on trauma carries risk of re-traumatization for survivors if they have not undergone counseling and worked through some of the damage. It can require a lot of work and time, but knowing you are helping others become free of violence and rebuild their lives is both fulfilling and inspiring.
There are many avenues available to domestic violence advocates. Before you decide where you want to start, you should consider a few things:
- How much time you have to devote to your advocacy work
- Your skills and talents
- What area you most want to make a difference in
Combining your passions and vision will help make you more effective, and knowing your limitations will help keep you from experiencing burnout or becoming overwhelmed.
Need some help getting started? Check out the suggestions below:
- Start a blog or volunteer as a blogger for a domestic violence organization – If you like to write and want to use your talent for a good purpose, consider writing blogs. You should remember, though, that blogging for an organization will carry submission deadlines and often requires interviewing and research. Make sure this is something you have ample time to set aside for completing posts.
- Use social media for your platform – As more and more survivors take to social media, this is an important platform to consider. Investigate various platforms, like Twitter, FaceBook, and Instagram to find what works best for you. This will allow you to easily connect with other survivors and advocacy groups, providing you an additional support network while raising awareness on domestic violence.
- Moderate or host online chats for survivors – This will allow you to create a community of support for other survivors. Many trauma-related chats have weekly topics to provide support to a wide range of experiences as well as raising awareness. This is recommended for those who have been out of their abuse for a sufficient amount of time and will require disclaimers that medical and legal advice is not offered.
- Get your friends/family involved – Have your family get involved in local domestic violence awareness events. They can be fundraising walks, supply donations, color runs, etc.
- Volunteer at your local advocacy center or with BTS – This is a good option for many of us, as it allows us to get connected to an established organization that can provide guidance on how we choose to volunteer. Many organizations have social media, a blog, scholarship, financial assistance and counseling/hotlines that need volunteers.
- Support organizations by contributing to fundraising efforts, supply drives and purchasing merchandise – Many domestic violence organizations rely on private funding to be able to provide life-saving services to those fleeing violence as well as continuing support after leaving. You can help provide much needed financial support by monetary and supply donations, purchasing merchandise and sharing these opportunities with others. If you own a business or work for one in the service industry, you can also consider offering a free service to survivors of abuse: pet grooming, art class, makeovers, writing class, dinners, etc.
- Become an event speaker – This is recommended for those who have sufficient time away from the abuse and have been through counseling. It can be difficult standing up to speak in front of others about something so personal. However, you can ask family or friends that you trust to help you practice so you become more comfortable. You will need to set aside time to think about the message you want to share.
- Organize or participate in community awareness events – You may find that there is a lack of community events and awareness about the reality of domestic violence in your area. To fill this void, you can hold workshops, speaking events, and healthy relationship fairs. Be aware ahead of time that events can take much time and effort to plan, so it is best to start planning early. You will also need time to advertise and get the word out for a successful event.
- Volunteer on hotlines – This usually requires a minimum of 40 hours of domestic violence training and is available through local and state organizations at various times of the year. It is not uncommon for organizations to require you being out of an abusive relationship for a minimum of one year, so be sure to ask about all their requirements to determine if you are eligible.
- Participate in and lead empowerment groups – You can join empowerment groups to help guide others to heal and find their confidence again. Topics generally touch on healthy relationships, trauma and healing, confidence, setting and achieving goals and maximizing your potential. These also require planning ahead of time, so if you take this on, be sure you have time to devote to the group.
- Organize a survivor support group – In rural areas, there are few support groups for survivors of domestic violence to meet on a regular basis to share experiences, support each other, and help others heal in an environment that is free of blaming and criticism. Check with your local domestic violence organizations/shelters to see if they would be willing to co-lead a support group with you. You will need to have a host that has domestic violence and trauma training.
- Share your story one-on-one with other survivors – Many think that speaking has to be a public event to count. However, public speaking is not always a comfortable place. A powerful way to make an impact is to share your story and connect with survivors one-on-one. This will give the person you are sharing with the support they need to move forward, but it also contributes to your healing process.
- Help institutions get involved – Workplaces, colleges and religious organizations often lack programs that support survivors of domestic violence. You can work with your HR department, clergy, or campus life/counseling center to help get programs started. Support groups, response programs and charitable contributions are just a few of the things that you can get started on.
Maybe as you read over this list, you thought of other things you’d like to do to help raise awareness to domestic violence, don’t be afraid to act on it. No act is too small to make a difference.